Notes on the Theme of Power in Macbeth by William Shakespeare

The play Macbeth deals with the transfer of power and the transformation it brings along with it in the agents of such transfer. King James was the royal patron of Shakespeare so inevitably the playwright’s vision accommodates traditional monarchic order. In this play, one can primarily note how he deals with the idea of power and its various effects on both individuals and society.

Power is what Macbeth lusts after. Such a destabilising ambition is constantly in conflict with his conscience. Initially, Duncan is the good King of Scotland who is an apt regal way knows how to acknowledge his generals’ bravery in the battlefield and how to reward them.

Shakespeare shows us how well Duncan contains the power vested in him but at the same time, he introduces Macbeth to us, an individual filled with leaps of imagination. Macbeth is an archetypal character who breaks into an established power structure. 

In the play, we see three consecutive powerholders i.e. Duncan, Macbeth and Malcolm. The plot evolves from the power in a stable individual to it being claimed by an ambitious person whose personal quality doesn’t match the power which it seeks so much.

Lady Macbeth in the very beginning expresses her concern for Macbeth saying, you “shall be what thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature: it is too full o’the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great, art not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it.

Here we may note that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth mistakenly believe that power, in order to be sustained, needs certain wickedness. We come to understand by the fall of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth that such an idea of power annihilates the person itself.

Macbeth’s power comes from his capacity for extreme brutality. Lady Macbeth exceeds him in cruelty but she has an incapacity for action. “valour of her tongue” is her power through which she furthers her intentions. The play shows us that power acquired in such a way has severe consequences. 

When Malcolm and Macduff meet in King Edward’s court, we start having glimpses of how a legit power is conceived. Malcolm stands for power with a moral force. When Macbeth is finally slain by Macduff, the order is restored.

Power is shown to have returned to a man of regal ethics, the true heir according to the primogeniture in a monarchy. Hence, power is one of the most vital thematic concerns of the play.